The building of America’s railroads involved African Americans, many working as slaves. Virtually every railroad built in the Pre-emancipation Era South was built using slave labor. During the Civil War (1861–1865) the US Military Railroads (USMRR) employed thousands of freeman and contraband slaves (as seen here). Besides those who worked on the transcontinental railroad, tens of thousands of African Americans worked in the railroad industry thereafter. Railroad and mining employment – unlike sharecropping and domestic service – offered a more economically independent life for African Americans. African American railroad workers helped build the nation we know today.
Courtesy of Library of Congress
African Americans railroad workers, circa 1862-1863, during the Civil War before the transcontinental railroad years, Andrew J. Russell, photographer.